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REF NO.: 284

SUBJECT: Memorial University business professor explores the world of ethics
DATE: April 1, 2005

When Dr. Robert Sexty wanted to screen a movie on the campus of Memorial University to raise awareness and encourage discussion about ethics, he ended up walking into an ethical situation before ever pressing ‘Play.’ He discovered that special clearances are required to screen movies even if it’s for non-commercial purposes.

“Unless you have received permission from the movie’s distribution company, it is probably illegal to screen a movie on campus, even if you’re using it for a good cause.” He added that institutions are under increasing scrutiny to ensure that copyright regulations are being enforced.

With his copy of The Corporation in hand, complete with a sticker giving him public performance rights, Dr. Sexty says illegal movie screenings are just one of the activities with ethical implications taking place at Memorial. As a member of the Faculty of Business Administration’s Task Force on Ethics, he hopes to raise awareness of the ethical considerations of our daily decisions and behaviours.

Established in 2004, the Task Force is helping to develop an ethics program that will encompass all aspects of the faculty's activities. Their goal is to make the faculty's stakeholders aware of the ethical implications of their behavior rather than state "do’s and don'ts" or "rights or wrongs.”

“We’re focusing on a values-based program rather than a rules-based one,” he said. And it appears the Faculty of Business Administration is the only one taking this approach. “As far as I know, no other department on campus, or business school across the country, is doing something like this.”

While other groups may be establishing codes of conduct, Dr. Sexty believes a values-based system is more effective and long-lasting. “There are countless situations that have ethical implications. It’s not possible to write a rule that applies to every situation; however, if you create awareness of values, you give people the tools to make their own moral decisions.”

But that awareness isn’t limited to course curriculum. “We have to think beyond teaching about ethics as a single course,” he said. “Everyone should be a part of the learning process, not just students. Ethics needs to be incorporated in everything we do and that has implications for faculty, staff and students.”

He points to the university’s Banner System database as an area for improvement. “Faculty members should not have access to every student’s academic record and address. I rely on administrators to ensure prerequisites have been met and beyond that there is no need for me to have access to student records.” The Task Force has prepared a motion urging the university to limit faculty members’ access to the Banner System to their own class lists.

While corporate scandals have brought business ethics to the forefront in recent months, Dr. Sexty, who has been teaching in this area since 1974, believes that all students at Memorial must be prepared to face the reality of moral issues. “Tales of corporate corruption have increased our awareness of ethics in business but ethics applies to all aspects of society, not just to business.”

Despite some beliefs that “business ethics” is an oxymoron, Dr. Sexty says it’s no surprise that it’s the Faculty of Business Administration leading the way on this initiative. “We’re very open to criticism and new ideas. Our approach is to think about how we can improve capitalism rather than focus on blaming it.”

In keeping with the principles of accountability, the Task Force’s web site details their objectives and activities. They recently posted a draft values statement and encourage people to submit their comments to the discussion forum. For more information, go to http://ethics.busi.mun.ca.

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